The Federal Court of Australia has today delivered its judgement in the case between Parks Victoria and the Australian Brumby Alliance (ABA), ruling in favour of Parks Victoria.
The ABA had sought an injunction to stop Parks Victoria undertaking removal of feral horses from the Alpine National Park in accordance with its ‘Protection of the Alpine National Park- Feral Horse Strategic Action Plan 2018-2021’. The question before the Court was whether the removal of horses by Parks Victoria challenged cultural heritage values associated with horses in the Alpine National Park, as defined under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) and the National Heritage List.
His Honour Justice O’Bryan stated “I am not satisfied that the Action, involving the removal of brumbies from the Bogong High Plains and the reduction in number of brumbies in the Eastern Alps, will have or is likely to have a significant impact on the National Heritage values of the Australian Alps."
Over the past 18 months, the injunction led to Parks Victoria suspending the majority of the alpine feral horse management operation. Trapping and rehoming programs that were previously implemented were put on hold, subsequently limiting the effectiveness in significantly reducing the feral horse population and environmental damage to the fragile wildlife, plants and habitats in the Victorian Alps.
During this period, a comprehensive aerial survey across the Australian Alps found a significant increase in feral horse numbers, 2 to 3 times higher than in the previous survey (estimates rising from 9,000 to 24,000 horses over five years). Additionally, the bushfires over the 2019-20 summer have greatly impacted large areas of the Victorian Alps, resulting in significant loss of threatened native wildlife and ecosystems. Remaining unburnt areas are being severely overgrazed and damaged by large numbers of feral horses.
Given the current circumstances, Parks Victoria will be commencing an additional technique to control horses. Small-team operations will be deployed into high-conservation priority locations where ground-based professional shooters will use thermal imaging and noise suppressors to cull free-ranging feral horses, under strict animal welfare protocols with expert equine veterinary oversight. This will complement the current bushfire recovery works that have removed more than 1,300 deer from fire impacted areas in eastern Victoria.
The longer-term program of trapping and rehoming of feral horses will continue.